The fight against fast fashion is imperative, and we simply cannot deny this any longer. The industry’s most profitable fast fashion brands – those responsible for the rapid recreation and offering for sale of trendy, runway designs for dirt cheap – have been exposed. The ethically and/or legally questionable practices upon which fast fashion is founded have come to light, such as major retailers’ employment of practices that are directly tied to human rights violations (think: slave labor abroad and even domestic allegations of discrimination in the workplace and the payment of inadequate compensation).
There are the sustained contractual relations between fast fashion giants and suppliers/subcontractors that fail to provide safe workspaces for garment workers, such as with those that occupied Rana Plaza, the building that collapsed in Bangladesh in 2013, killing over 1,100 garment workers, and a number of subsequent tragedies. Still yet, consider fast fashion companies’ direct participation in truly significant environmental harms – both in terms of pollution and in the form of the encouraged model of frequent consumption and discarding of garments and accessories.
Over the past several years, in particular, a myriad of news articles (in major publications), in-depth studies by various governmental and non-governmental institutions, social media campaigns, and even a fairly mainstream documentary (The True Cost) have shed significant light on the widespread problems associated with the practice of fast fashion. As a result, information regarding the excessive working hours, low wages, unsafe working environments and harsh punishments for workers regularly associated with the large-quantity copying of authentic styles from the runway at rapid turn-over rates, is more easily accessible than ever before.
It is hardly under wraps that when a pair of trousers retails for $20 or less – a common offering for mass-market retailers – there is a significantly slim likelihood that they were manufactured responsibly. In order to manufacture such inexpensive garments, not only are substandard materials and dirt-cheap labor utilized, but vital health and safety standards are disregarded in the process, as these mechanisms are too costly to implement and monitor.
With this in mind, it seems fitting to place blame on the fast fashion giants, themselves, as these companies actively elect to source their garments and accessories from suppliers offering goods at extremely low costs. Note: Many brands and retailers know what such low prices entail and are fully aware of the deficiencies at factory level because the vast majority of them audit on an ongoing basis. Also damning is the fact that these retailers – many of which enjoy revenues that range from $200 million to $22 billion and upwards – have the resources to at least attempt to initiate adjustments in their supply chains for the sake of the laborers.
It is also worth mentioning that fast fashion companies are not without options. Recent reports from multiple individuals on the ground in Bangladesh and Cambodia have stated that a noteworthy number of suppliers have begun to address health and safety inadequacies in their factories. Factory owners have, in fact, begun investing in mechanisms to improve working conditions in response to the numerous garment factory incidents in the low cost markets (think: Bangladesh and Cambodia).
However, the implementation of such necessary measures – such as proving adequate fire exits, ventilation, first aid kits, water and working bathrooms for their employees (some of the most basic improvements) – requires monetary investments. As a result, the output from these factories comes at a relatively increased cost and because fast fashion retailers are largely unwilling to cut into their own bottom line budgets, most have opted to source only from those offering the lowest cost items – ones that have done little – if anything – to ensure safe and healthy workspaces.
These facts alone, however, are not enough to change the minds of most consumers - especially at a time when these ugly truths are coupled with our collective expectation that fashion be trendy and cheap (because fast fashion retailers facilitate this), our excessive consumption practices, and our not-so-stellar economy. One of the other problematic elements consistently at play: the promotion of such companies and implicitly, such practices, by many immensely famous celebrities, world-renowned models, and major publications.
WHO ELSE IS TO BLAME?
We have long known that fast fashion giants are the so-called “bad guys” in the fast fashion cycle. They are the entities consistently profiting at the detriment of others and the environment. However, if we reflect upon the grander scheme of things, there are supplementary culprits: The famous names and faces that endorse these brands and the publications that glamorize such garments and accessories, all of whom simply must be held accountable.
Case in point: The recently announced partnership between megastar Beyoncé and British fast fashion giant, Topshop. The singer joins a long list of celebrities to form a junction with fast fashion retailers. In the recent past, Beyoncé has teamed up with H&M, one of whose supplier factories caught fire just last month, injuring factory workers. Similarly, Nicki Minaj teamed up with K-Mart; Rihanna with River Island; Beyoncé with H&M; the Kardashians with Sears; Kate Bosworth with Topshop; Lauren Conrad with Kohls; David Beckham with H&M; and Iggy Azalea with Forever 21 – just to name a few.
Beyoncé’s partnership with Topshop, for instance, which has been widely reported on and praised by fashion publications, is categorically irresponsible. For a celebrity with as immense influence as Beyoncé to romanticize fast fashion is simply unacceptable. Not only is she ratifying fast fashion on its face, she is aligning herself with the often-inhumane treatment of garment workers (whether it be in the form of unsafe workspaces, physical and/or sexual abuse on the job, failure to provide adequate compensation or compensation at all in some circumstances, etc. – all of which are common occurrences relating to fast fashion manufacturing) or the associated environmental devastation that comes hand in hand with such toxic and disposable fashion.
To be fair, Queen Bey is not alone; she's just one of the most famous. There are the ongoing collaborations between the many, many high fashion brands (think: Balmain, Alexander Wang, Margiela, Versace, Isabel Marant, etc.) and H&M. Remember the time publishing giant Condé Nast (parent to Vogue, Elle, Glamour, W, and co.) teamed up with Forever 21? Or how about when German sportswear giant adidas joined with Topshop?
Also, do not forget the fashion publications, such as Popsugar – which recently ran an article entitled, 6 Reasons We'll Always Need Fast Fashion. Or established fashion publications like Vogue and Marie Claire have both praised Nasty Gal founder, Sophia Amoruso, for her innovative and inspiring work.
And I’m quite sure it would not necessarily be an enormous stretch to place blame on the truly famous models that choose to front campaigns for these companies: Karlie Kloss for Joe Fresh, Mango, Express, and Topshop; Kendall Jenner for Mango and H&M; Kate Moss for Mango; Miranda Kerr, Adriana Lima, and Gisele for H&M; Cara Delevingne for Topshop and Mango; Emily Ratajkowski for Nasty Gal; and Joan Smalls for H&M, Gap, and Joe Fresh. These are just a few of many, many examples.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am well acquainted with the fact that in each of the aforementioned instances, the goals of such business/individuals is not social awareness or humanitarianism. The goal – whether it be for a model or a fashion publication – is to earn revenue. Moreover, I am also abundantly aware that the fast fashion brand – whichever it may be – most likely initiated the deal at issue, and that such campaigns or articles are a source of income.
However, no one forced these individuals to associate themselves with brands that prioritize cheap clothing over the health and safety of children and adults. These influential individuals (whether it be models, celebrities or editors-in-chief) chose to represent fast fashion brands and to portray them in a positive light. They chose to accept compensation (either directly or indirectly) in exchange for representing a brand responsible for widespread legal and/or ethical violations. And they did so knowing their presence would serve as an endorsement of that brand and would help the brand garner sales.
Regardless of the primary goals of the fashion business being to post profits and respond to market demand (the latter is a claim upon which so many guilty parties like to rely), there frankly must be a level of accountability for publications, editors, celebrities, and models, alike, when it comes to the promotion of fast fashion. These are individuals and organizations with the power to influence and elicit significant change in terms of the damages associated with fast fashion, and yet, they are choosing to thwart it. And frankly, there is simply too much concrete evidence of this sector’s truly abhorrent practices (as distinct from those of ethically made garments and accessories) – many of which very well could be addressed and remedied – to continually allow these industry insiders and mass-market tastemakers to behave in such thoughtless and irresponsible ways. Period.
(Edits by Ariel Givner)